This morning I wore a sweater to walk over to the market in the rain, which – hello?!? A sweater in June in Washington, D.C.? What´s next, frogs raining from the sky? A plague of locusts? Seriously, I´m waiting for further signs of the coming apocalypse. I think some of you are having mad weather elsewhere in the country as well.
I visited my sister-in-law Kate and family this weekend in their small town on the Eastern Shore and played country mouse. I love going there. I read their local paper and recognize half the names. People know who you are when you go downtown. They have a saltwater pool, and the flat terrain´s perfect for aimless bike riding, one of my favorite childhood activities. Kate has this gift of making a house into a home. Every house of hers, from the Santa Fe pueblo to the Eastern Shore four-square, is timeless and magical and feels old and full of secrets in the best possible way. It´s a gift I admire.
Anyway, this weekend for my birthday, she gave me a hand-knit throw in a chunky, funky wool that captures the pink-to-pale variations of the lip of a seashell. (This is the same gal who gave me that outstanding mohair sweater.) The coolest part? This throw smells like it´s been sitting next to a woodstove, or knitted beside the campfire. It´s all smoky, and I don´t know why, but I´m enjoying it while it lasts. That smell is perfect in this cool, damp weather, like the smell that drifts from my unswept fireplace in the summer after a hard rain.
It got me rooting around for my decant of Annick Goutal Chine Imperiale, a scent so obscure that my googling produced exactly one hit – a mention in a comment thread on Basenotes. a discontinued room spray (and it’s Chine, not Chene, see comments! Searching for Chene gets you the Serge Lutens.)
It makes me sad when people dismiss Annick Goutal as a chick mecca of bosom-heaving operatic scents like Gardenia Passion, or standbys like Hadrien. AG has done a few things that are frankly strange – the maple-syrup immortelle-fest of Sables, along with Oh Do Fear (okay, really Eau du Fier) which conjures up the La Brea Tarpits, or asphalt in July. If the world were a better place, every Annick Goutal counter would stock their sublime, difficult to find Eau de Monsieur, a unisexy mossy/citrus fragrance with an unlisted but obvious dose of immortelle (here´s a link to my old review.)
If Monsieur can be viewed as a more conventional riff on the love-or-hate-it Sables, then Chine Imperiale is Fier cross-pollinated with Diptyque Essence of John Galliano, then diluted by half and hooked up with something like Dior Eau Fraiche, maybe, or even Monsieur without the immortelle. I don´t know what the notes are, but Chine Imperiale is quite smoky at the top. It´s not as intensely smoky as John Galliano or the recently offed Patricia de Nicolai home scent whose name escapes me but was very much wet-fireplace. (Au Coin du Feu, and maybe you can still get it abroad? People mention it, at any rate, but they were on clearance when I was in London, never a good sign.) Anyhow, the smoky smell slowly fades but never goes away, and an oakmoss-heavy cologne scent emerges underneath. It´s the oddest combination, but it works. I´d love to know if anyone thinks Chine Imperiale is still available. Actually, I´d love to know in general what the distributors are thinking. Sables, for instance, and Duel both have a habit of popping up unexpectedly on retail shelves locally, only to disappear again for awhile.
My kids (and other victims) really loathe that smoky smell. It got me pondering. Why do we love what we love? Why am I entranced by the idea of smelling like a bonfire, but not a rose or a caramel? Like a grapefruit but not a melon? Linden, but not lavender? Musty crypt but not mint? In the midsummer doldrums, I bury my face in that glorious woodsmoke-and-wool-scented throw and I can’t help but smile. Woody-smoky-birchtar scents make me feel the same way. Y’all feel free to throw out your favorites. (Off the top of my head: Lonestar Memories; Kolnisch Juchten, new and vintage.) Maybe summer’s the perfect time for smoky campfire scents after all?
image: Oak Tree in Winter at Lacock Abbey, salt print from a calotype negative, early 1840s, foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk